HBO’s Girls: 24 Is the New 13

May 18, 2012

Girls - HBO

By Austen Brooks

Girls - HBOLet’s talk about sex: in five episodes, we’ve seen three of our four Girls in the act and one get close. Writer/director/star Lena Dunham’s scenes are the most explicit, to the point of discomfort; but then again, so is the rest of the show. Is it Dunham’s goal to suggest that being a girl in her 20’s is more uncomfortable than an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm? More awkward than puberty? As her gynecologist tells Hannah mid-examination, “You couldn’t pay me to be 24 again.”

HBO’s Girls has been touted as a sort of Sex in the City: The Lost Generation. I’d like to think that upon closer inspection, Girls resists this niche, but the comparison is enticing nonetheless. Instead of Carrie we have Lena Dunham’s hopefully hopeless Hannah, an aspiring writer and the show’s protagonist. Filling Samantha’s stilettos is the sardonic and sexified Jessa (Jemima Kirke). Type-A uptight Marnie functions as the show’s Miranda; Allison Williams plays Hannah’s rock. Rounding out the bunch is Zosia Mamet as wide-eyed Shoshannah, Brooklyn’s Charlotte. I suppose it’s cheapening to put the characters in terms of their predecessors because they do compellingly stand on their own; I don’t see this as so much a lack of originality as a tried and true format.

Girls is relatable, even in a way SATC could never be. These girls lack Louboutins and never eat out; they live in crappy apartments and they certainly do not prance around Manhattan in a slick opening sequence with their own theme song. Their struggles and conflicts don’t seem contrived or superficial because these girls are allowed to be flawed, and are celebrated (not glorified) because of it. Hannah’s self-destructive decisions suggest that she doesn’t even aspire to the vigilant self-respect that Carrie Bradshaw flaunts in the face of men who treat her badly. Her insecurity and selfishness make her pathetic and comical and reprehensible and sometimes we hate her, but we never stop sympathizing, because she tries so hard to be good. She and her friends have realistic relationships with each other, their bodies, men; they float, somewhat aimlessly, trying to live up to the career-woman status society expects of them.

Somehow, though, Lena Dunham does seem to have figured it all out at age 25. She is writer, director, star and producer of the series. There are moments when the pacing seems to slack, or the “grown-up” characters act uncharacteristically, or the framing seems a little jarring, but then you remind yourself that this girl is doing it by herself, for us, and that’s why moments like the one at the end of episode three, when Marnie and Hannah dance away their stresses to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and remind themselves that life isn’t all that serious after all.

Watch Girls Sunday night’s at 10:30 on HBO.

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